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The RM20-million panda puzzle

 | June 14, 2012

Conservation groups feel that the money could be better spent to protect our own species rather than on two imported pandas.

PETALING JAYA: Animal conservation groups just don’t understand why the government is spending RM20 million on two pandas from China when some of our own species are facing extinction.

They say the RM20 million would go a long way to save our species.

“This is a case of [Malay proverb) kera di hutan disusukan anak di rumah mati kelaparan [Importance is given to outsiders rather than own family],” said Professor Dr Maketab Mohamed, president of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS).

He stressed that local species such as the Sumatran rhinoceros, the Malayan tiger, the tapir, pangolin and elephants to a certain extentd face extinction.

“The budget allocated to Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia (Perhilitan) for its conservation efforts is hardly sufficient. For enforcement effort itself, the budget will usually run out in three months,” he said.

The pandas are on a 10-year loan from China and will be housed in special air-conditioned enclosures in Putrajaya wetlands.

Maketab said enforcement effort includes tracking down poachers and locating possible poachers.

These activities are important to bring poachers to justice and also to send a warning to other potential poachers, he added.

He said in jest that the Sumatran rhinoceros was not as “adorable” as the giant pandas, but the rhinos have to be given special attention as they are going extinct at an alarming rate.

The smallest species in the rhinoceros species, the Sumatran rhinoceros are mostly poached for their horns.

Critical danger

WWF reports that the species are in “critical danger” as there are only about 300 of them left in the world. A survey conducted in 2005 revealed that there were only 13 such rhinoceros in Sabah, as opposed to the 30 to 70 believed to be there previously.

“The government needs to think about the local species which can be saved. There’s no point in allocating a budget to save these species when it is too late,” Maketab said.

Wong Siew Te of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre also echoed Maketab’s views.

Wong said that RM20 million was a lot of money which could be channelled to conservation of Sun bears, among others.

“With the RM20 million, one can build a conservation centre which helps incorporate and promote the welfare of the captive Sun bears in Peninsular Malaysia. You can have proper facilities including an education centre,” he said.

Although it is unclear if the species are facing extinction, International Union for Conservation of Nature’s report recently stated that the species are “vulnerable”.

The Sun bears are usually hunted for their body parts, bile and fur. It has been reported that some of these bears, whose bile is extracted while they are alive, are held captive in inhumane conditions.

Anbarasi Boopal from Singapore’s Animal Concerns Research and Education Society argued over the need to introduce two new species in the region when existing local species were often neglected.

“It is not really an ideal exchange of animals. After 10 years, these pandas need to adjust back to the environment in China.

“Pandas usually do not adapt easily. They are prone to infections and they don’t breed well in captivity,” she said, adding that conservation efforts for pandas are best done within their own habitat.

She added that the expertise needed to tend to these pandas was limited in this region.

She said the additional cost to train local experts to tend to the pandas could be best spent on raising awareness on the local endangered species instead.

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